Category Archives: feature
On the 18th December, The Daily Mail reported that a large shark-like creature had been spotted in the Albert Dock of Merseyside.
A man named Simon Hoban had spotted the creature (pictured) on Google Earth saying:
I hope this won’t cause panic but the dock does free swimming sessions.
Marine biology expert Tom Cornwell said the ‘large object’ could be a basking shark – which can grow to 35ft. He told The Daily Mail:
‘Water creatures have been known to cruise the wrong way up rivers and canals and become stranded, as with the whale on the Thames six years ago. Perhaps it was an old shark which was looking for a place to die.’
‘Psychic’ or ‘medium’ is a term used to describe someone who claims to have a special ability or to use a ‘sixth sense’ to receive information which cannot easily be gleaned through normal human senses. A person may claim to do this with the assistance of spirit (as in mediumship) or they may claim to have special powers of perception either gifted to them or that they have honed.
Those who do not wish to describe themselves as psychic sometimes use other, less grandiose terms such as ‘sensitive’ to describe an increased ability to receive information using means alternative to our known senses.
It is reasonable when presented with such claims to seek to prove whether the claimant can do that which they profess to be able to do. A scientific approach to psychic claims may include formal or informal research aimed at proving such claims.
Once clear about the claim being made the researcher needs to design a research methodology which they think can capture the claimed skill and convert it into data. The data can then be analysed to determine whether the claimant can, in fact, achieve a hit rate above chance when set the task of performing their claimed psychic ability.
Researchers usually work with the claimant to agree the parameters of the study and will agree, before the study takes place, the threshold for concluding that the claim is upheld. This means agreeing how the research will be conducted and how the results will be analysed as well as where the line can be drawn to determine that the claimant has succeeded in proving their claim. In sceptical circles the burden of proof is said to fall upon the claimant since they are claiming to be able to do something extraordinary.
In general, the evidence presented for psychic phenomena has not been sufficiently verified to reach the threshold for scientific acceptance. Alternative explanations such as chance, coincidence, cold reading, suggestion and many other non-paranormal techniques have been put forward and demonstrated.
When embarking on a piece of research to attempt to prove psychic ability it is important to develop a research question or hypothesis. This is a statement of what it is you are asking or attempting to prove. Research tools are available for use and can add credibility to your research and assist in the process of answering your question. Michael Thalbourne’s Sheep-Goat scale lends itself very readily to the study of ESP, for example. He has produced a questionnaire which enables us to determine an individual’s level of belief. His theory says that believers in the paranormal (‘Sheep’) perform better than non-believers or ‘Goats’ because ‘Goats’ actively avoid hits in order to prove their theory of non-belief and have been evidenced to score below average in ESP tests. We need to approach research with an open mind but also with a theory to test. Essentially when conducting research we not only want to discover whether a phenomena exists but we also want to discover how it occurs and to be able to discuss some possible explanations.
Parapsychology is the name used to describe the scientific study of anomalous phenomena and typically includes the study of ESP, psychokinesis, mediumship and other claims of Psychic ability. Parapsychologists are sceptics in the true sense of the word. In other words they are not necessarily non-believers but they do apply rationalism and logic to their research. Parapsychology also challenges the assumption that subjective experience is ‘truth’. There can be no clear distinction between objective and subjective experience. What happens to me is not necessarily ‘truth’ as in a true reflection of what happens outside of myself as experienced by others. In fact the notion of truth itself can be challenged. In other words, parapsychology acknowledges that everything we experience is filtered through our own subjectivity and cannot be treated as fact.
It is easy and fun to conduct informal research into all the areas covered in this article. For example, Extra Sensory Perception (ESP), the act of telepathic transfer of images is traditionally practiced using Zenner cards but any image or object which can retained out of sight of the person trying to determine what it is can be used.
The most highly regarded research into psychic phenomena is that which uses a double-blind methodology. This method which is commonly used in drug trials, attempts to remove bias and influence which can flaw the study. The ‘double’ part of this term means that both the experimenters and the participants have no knowledge of the target and they do not even know who belongs to the control group and the experimental group until after the research has been completed and analysed.
Double-blind research is an excellent way to conduct research into psychic phenomena because the claim that unconscious bias and subtle unintended cues can explain positive results is a real and credible explanation. If the experimenters do not know what the target is then they cannot influence the participants. In a single-blind experiment the participants are blind but the experimenters are not. There remains a high risk that subjects are influenced by experimenter bias when using this methodology.
In simple terms, when designing a study, for example, to evidence ESP, if the experimenters know what the target object is then an explanation for any positive results will be that the experimenter communicated the target to the participants either consciously or unconsciously. Double-blind is therefore considered to be a much stronger method and the possible explanations for any results are narrowed.
Lastly, the bigger the sample size or number of people taking part in your experiment, the more generalisable your results will be. If you have a strong methodology your research can continue on more than one occasion so long as the method remains the same and this provides an opportunity to obtain more data.
If you would like to learn more about designing your own research I recommend a visit to any of the websites below for more information on the scientific study of psychic claims.
Over the next few months a few BARsoc members will be delivering talks up and down the UK about a range of topics, it’s worth popping along if one of the talks is in your are.
Hayley Stevens will be talking at Oxford Skeptics in the Pub on November 9th with a lecture called “I’m a ghost hunter; get me out of here!” that looks at ghost research through the eyes of a skeptic from the inside of the research field.The venue is to be confirmed at the moment but check here for details.
Trystan Swale will also be delivering a talk on November 9th for the Nottingham Skeptics in the Pub called ‘Breaking the crop circle’ that offers an insight into the bad science, poor reasoning and denialism of those who still choose to believe. The talk will take place from 7:30pm at Fellows Morton and Clayton, Canal Street in Nottingham.
On November 21st Ashley Pryce will be deliverying his talk “An Introduction to Skepticism” for ‘part of Glasgow Skeptics in the Tron (formerly Skeptics in the Palace). You can read more about it here.
On December 16th Hayley Stevens will be delivering her “I’m a Ghost hunter; get me out of here!” talk again, but this time to the Merseryside Skeptics in the Pub. The talk will take place at The Vines on Lime Street in Liverpool from 7:30pm.
On December 20th Peter Harrison will be delivering a talk for the Cardiff Skeptics in the Pub called ‘The science of Lucid Dreaming’. This talk covers the reality of lucid dreaming, the scientific evidence and experiments in this interesting field, and the abundant myths and misunderstandings. You will also be shown how you too can take control of your dreamscape. The talk will take place at The Promised Land, Windsor Place, Cardiff from 7:30pm.
Finally, on December 21st Ashley Pryce will be talking at Leicester Skeptics in the Pub on ‘How to be a Psychic Conman’. You can find more details on this talk here.
We hope you can attend some of these talks. There are more talks lined up for 2011 so be sure to check back for more information in the new year.
Written by Allyson
What is glass moving, what is its function and does it do what it’s supposed to?
For quite some time now people have associated glass moving or “divination” with contact from the spirit world. But how do we know this is the real deal?